Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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26 Tishrei 5760 - October 6, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Lulav Cartel Continues -- Rabbonim and Legal Authorities Fight Back

by Betzalel Kahn

The legal department of the Antitrust Authority is involved in preparing indictments against suspects in last year's lulav cartel. Although this investigation was launched in respect to operations of a cartel last year, it has become clear that the same merchants are under suspicion again this year.

Rabbonim in Bnei Brak signed a proclamation that no one should pay more than NIS 60 ($14) for a regular lulav. After investigation and hearing testimony from merchants, they concluded that was the maximum fair price. Reports were that their recommendation was largely observed in the chareidi areas of Bnei Brak and elsewhere. In their proclamation they indicated that premium lulovim such as the Deri strain which was the subject of a feature article in the Succos edition of Yated, command somewhat higher prices.

The premium strains constitute a small fraction of the market, numbering some 10-15,000 lulovim. Altogether, hundreds of thousands of lulovim are sold in Israel, and larger amounts of money were at stake in the mass market lulovim that are imported from El-Arish near the Gaza Strip in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

Last year, a number of lulav merchants filed complaints with the Antitrust Authority against a few large wholesalers. They claimed that a number of merchants banded together in order to acquire most of the lulovim from El-Arish as well as other places, in addition to gaining control of the haddasim market. The purpose: to sell them at astronomical prices and earn vast sums of money, amounting to millions of shekolim. The intention was to sell their merchandise at four times the usual cost.

As a result of the cartel on the lulav and haddasim market, prices will rise by 100%. This will also result in a rise in the prices of the lulovim by hundreds of percents, forcing consumers to purchase lulovim at very high costs.

On Thursday Elul 6 the Antitrust Authority said that its legal department is currently preparing the draft of an indictment against those suspected last year of forming the lulav cartel. They added that even before a hearing was a complaint was filed to the effect that members of last years cartel collaborated once again, again importing most of the lulovim from Egypt, and raised their prices.

Antitrust Authority investigators conducted searches among a number of arba minim merchants in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the violation of the existing Monopolies Law. Officials told Yated Ne'eman that the investigation is focused mainly on the suspicion that the merchants intend to import the lulovim in a manner preventing others from importing them from El-Arish, since the Monopolies Law does not apply to agricultural produce grown in Israel. Therefore, the investigation against the members of the cartel, on the suspicion that they banded together in order to corner the haddasim market, will apparently not result in indictments.

Commissioner of the Antitrust Authority, Dr. David Tadmor, relates that the allegations are being investigated. "If it becomes clear that there is substance to these allegations, we will regard it as a situation in which suspects who were under investigation last year are repeating the violation, exploiting their monopolistic power to raise the prices of commodities which for a large part of the populace are considered a basic necessity," Tadmor said.

In the week before Succos, at which the sale of the arba minim are at their height in markets throughout the country, the Authority continued its investigations.

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